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Florentine political history

1From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, and especially during the “republican” era when the city became the herald of “Florentine liberty” (Florentina libertas), Florence was a key reference point for western political history. Precociously freed from the shackles of feudalism, barring a few subsequent dark passages, for two and a half centuries Florence was the site of true political reinvention, as Moses I. Finley and Christian Meier have defined it: [1] it boasted public debate on political matters, supported by procedures that allowed citizens to enjoy institutionalised political participation. But the city also demonstrated its powers of political reinvention in the way in which it ultimately dealt with power struggles and intrigues out in the public sphere, rather than in the shadows; such struggles and intrigues unfolding in a partially professionalised and largely autonomous realm, especially with regard to religion. Although the origins and early days of the Florence comune (the medieval “commune”, which would become a “township” or “municipality”) remain partially unknown, it was through the assertion of the popolo (“the people”), working closely with the guilds, that it became a leading city. Along with Venice and Genoa, during the Renaissance it was one of the city-states that resisted the rise of the new noble dynasties for the longest – the Visconti and Sforza in Milan, the Gonzaga in Mantua, and the Este and Ferrara in Modena. In contemporary discourse and representation, Florence embodied the “popular” version of the Republic, whereas the Doges of Venice represented its “aristocratic” form. The political transformations that Florence experimented with as early as the thirteenth century included inventing (or reinventing) deliberative and electoral techniques and the forms of voting that would become standard in modern politics. The city-state gradually broke with the world of feudalism, imperial political theology, and the associated institutional and ideological forms of authority. Several centuries before the idea of popular sovereignty would take hold, a quasi-federal political community initially based on guilds (the Arti) and other groups with a specific status recognised by the city (districts, Guelph partisan organisations, etc.), which had been typical in medieval townships, gradually gave way to a more unified republic over the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

2Politics in the Tuscan city were both strikingly similar to and fundamentally different from ours. Several aspects warrant our attention with regard to this point. Public deliberation grew in importance, especially from the end of the fourteenth century, but took place in quasi-informal assemblies – the consulte e pratiche – which addressed relevant questions on an almost daily basis, and not in legislative councils, which would become the “natural” habitat for such discussions a few centuries later. Elections and majority ballot voting were adopted and refined but, until the end of the fifteenth century, these electoral forms were not combined with the notion of popular consent, otherwise typical of modern representative governments. Florence witnessed the emergence of a true political class, and one that was virtually professionalised given that it practised this activity full-time. This political class was dominated by the great families that wielded broad political influence through their vast networks. But the city also saw a rise in the active participation of thousands of citizens in the management of public affairs through a mix of co-option, lotteries and the rapid turnover of mandates. In addition, Florence developed a number of modern administrative techniques, such as a proportional tax system based on a highly precise census of property and moveable wealth across the territory of a vast state in the process of establishing itself; in the fifteenth century, this territory included the entire Arno valley, from the Apennines to the sea, as far as Pisa and Livorno. It was also in Florence that the modern concept of the republic was created: when Leonardo Bruni contrasted a republican regime with princely government, the “republic” became more than just a synonym for good governance. However, the official ideology of the Tuscan city was marked by an ideal form of political representation that was not representation by mandate, but rather the appointment of the most impartial, fair and useful individuals for collective harmony, forming a pars pro toto that could represent the body politic.

3Florentine political experimentation can to a certain extent be compared to the discovery of perspective in the visual arts, the creation of modern philology by humanists working on classical texts, or the invention of pioneering financial, commercial, and banking techniques (large companies pooling together multiple forms of capital, double-entry accounting, etc.). Merchants, tradesmen, and bankers were the social classes that supported the comuni, which in turn vigorously defended their interests. Florence’s historical originality in the political realm had parallels in the artistic and intellectual spheres, as well as in the world of economics and finance. The conceptual tools and individuals involved circulated between domains that today we consider to be completely separate: Dante, Bruni, Machiavelli and Guicciardini were all highly political active; Michelangelo and Brunelleschi oversaw the city’s fortifications and helped fight against the princes threatening the city.

4For two centuries, the Tuscan city asserted itself as the centre of the Renaissance. Since Athens and then Rome, no western metropolis had been the site of such historical innovation. The Florentine experiment triggered major developments in political thought: this was the birthplace of what intellectual historians call “civic humanism”, or the confluence of humanism as an intellectual trend and municipal traditions that demanded a certain level of political freedom for citizens. While Machiavelli embodies the apex of a trajectory of realistic political thought that marked the birth of political science, he was far from being unique – in fact, he was in dialogue with many thinkers who are today less well known, such as Francesco Guicciardini and Donato Giannotti. Tuscan historians establish a crucial link between the chroniclers of the Middle Ages and modern historiography. In short, Florence is an ideal case study for observing the shift from a medieval political episteme to a modern political one.


5As the historiographical analyses conducted by Lorenzo Tanzini included in the French version of this issue demonstrate, Florence has been the subject of an exceptional number of historical works, making it the most widely studied Renaissance city in Europe. These studies are part of a broader dialogue, begun in the fourteenth century, between politics, political thought, and history. [2] However, Tanzini shows how a major shift in the orientation, broad paradigms, and objectives of studies of the political history of Florence occurred in the middle of the nineteenth century, and continued to inform the field until just a few decades ago. Following Hans Baron and Nicolai Rubinstein, a large swath of authors have idealised the political history of Florence to the extent that they viewed the “Machiavellian moment” as the birth of modern political thought. [3] On the other hand, sociologists working from a different historical perspective have suggested that we should nuance the actual scope of the “republican liberty” touted by the Florentine regime by highlighting the role of the multiple social networks (districts, alliances, economic partnerships, etc.) that were indispensable for the exercise and control of power, as well as for political domination. Drawing primarily from large databases, these scholars have examined the complex relationships between politics, economics, religion and prominent families in Florence, thus improving our understanding of how institutions and socio-political logic operated during the course of these two and a half centuries. [4]

6These studies were made possible thanks to a number of important and largely preserved archives, the density of whose holdings is exceptional for the time period. [5] Not until the revolutionary and republican periods of later centuries do we find archives comparable to those in Florence, which provide information about the composition of political personnel and the functioning of legislative activity, as well as containing the transcription of major public debates, private epistolary exchanges between high-profile leaders and “ordinary” citizens, and statistics on economic development and financial policy. By pairing archival research with conceptual innovation, modern historiography has been able to revise political understanding of the Florentine Republic, away from the influence of literary sources and ideological debates.

7Unfortunately, these works, primarily penned by Italian, English, or to a lesser extent, German speakers, have generally not been translated into French. [6] This crucial chapter of western political history is thus poorly understood in France, especially in the field of political science. One only has to consult the bibliographical references cited by Bernard Manin, a pioneer in the field, to realise this, as almost no French texts are cited. [7] French researchers have studied Florentine art, culture and economics, but they have largely overlooked politics. Only Machiavelli, and to a much lesser extent, Guicciardini, Savonarola and Bruni have warranted studies, mainly conducted by intellectual historians and philosophers. [8] The number of studies conducted from the perspective of the social history of politics or even just traditional political history can be counted on two hands. [9] Consequently, the Republic of Florence and its political experiments are largely overlooked by French political scientists, and are likewise absent from public debate – despite the fact that Florence, and Italian comuni in general, could and should be a second pillar of political science research on the history of republican and democratic politics prior to the revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, alongside the well-known examples of Greek and Roman Antiquity.

8The purpose of this issue of the Revue française de science politique is thus to begin to address such lacunae and establish a better understanding of this particularly important moment in western political history. As Lorenzo Tanzini’s bibliographic essay demonstrates, recent Italian historiography has sought to better integrate Florence within the central and northern Italian municipalities; a region which, from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, constituted a major locus of political innovation and engaged in constant exchanges and complex relationships. From this perspective, it seems promising to compare and contrast a variety of historical studies, including some in French, [10] in order to establish a broad overview of the field. Such an overview becomes even more informative once we realise, as recent work and the article by Hagen Keller in this issue have suggested, that the diversity of institutions, the growing complexity of practices, and the multiplicity of forces at play make it impossible to propose a single, unifying model for the political trajectories of cities. [11] Moreover, at the end of the fifteenth century, the Italian Wars made historiography focused on a single city, or even just northern and central Italy, obsolete; Guicciardini was doubtless the first historian to realise this. [12] As Tanzini has explained, we are witnessing “a sort of end to the historiographical ‘primacy’ of the Tuscan capital, and the birth of a new approach that goes beyond Florence”. [13] There is little doubt that with the current development of global and transnational history, which makes greater room for non-European political experiences, this shift will be further accentuated. Florence nevertheless remains a particularly important focal point, less as a model for “the people’s city” or “the birthplace of modernity”, or because it was “unique”, but because the city was characterised by particularly diverse experiments in government and institutional configurations, as well as by the richness and constant renewal of its social and political life. [14] From this perspective, Florence is less of an exception than an ideal observation point. The current decentring of historical perspective thus draws on vast prior investigations, and it is indispensable for French researchers to take stock of these.

9Focused on the city of Florence, this issue proposes a three-pronged approach. The first dimension involves combining political history with political science. This undertaking is less evident than it might initially appear. It is true that “political science”, rather than being a specific, clearly defined science with its own concepts and methods, is or should be an institutional umbrella that allows disciplines such as history, sociology and anthropology to enter into dialogue regarding political matters. However, the references required, theories employed and issues raised can end up becoming separate from institutional boundaries to the extent that mutual understanding is no longer easily achieved. This difficulty only increases when the historical topic being addressed and the literature attempting to shed light on it are almost completely absent from the usual reference landscape of political scientists. To this end, we have chosen to call upon authors who are primarily historians. Readers from the field of political science should therefore not be surprised if they do not come across certain familiar and regularly invoked concepts. We have included explanatory notes in order to facilitate their reading of these texts.

10The second consideration, though lesser in scope, was selecting texts that had originally been written in Italian (and one in German), rather than texts in English. Anglo-Saxon literature on Florentine history is indispensable, and repeatedly cited throughout this issue. For obvious linguistic reasons, however, it is already more accessible to most French-speaking readers. It thus seemed important to highlight other historical contributions, in order to facilitate a dialogue that went beyond Italian and German researchers alone.

11Thirdly, we have chosen to adopt as our key focus the constitutional and legal procedures that allow political communities to make decisions, and more specifically, to elect their leaders. Of course, politics cannot be reduced to these procedures alone; however, it is scarcely possible without them. We have thus selected contributions which, through a series of cross-sections, allow readers to gain a global understanding of municipal life in Florence outside of periods of democratisation or highly charged political events – the most important of which is perhaps the Ciompi wool-workers revolt in 1378, which is already accessible to French readers in a recent in-depth study. [15]

12From Voltaire and Jacob Burckhardt to Richard Goldthwaite and John F. Padgett, for decades Florence has been treated as the “ultimate historical laboratory” for studying the birth of modernity and the economic, political and cultural transformations that this budding “modernity” is said to have produced or accompanied. Three major issues, all intricately linked, have informed this endeavour: cultural modernity as expressed by civic humanism; the implementation of a capitalist economy, and the social organisation associated with it; and the construction of republican political liberty (Florentina libertas[16]) in acts and in theory. [17] This issue of the Revue française de science politique is devoted to this last element, viewed from the angle of decision-making and electoral procedures. We have adopted a multi-factorial approach to explain the dynamics and scope of these mechanisms. They would be meaningless without the social actors who simultaneously promote and exploit them; the articles by Laura De Angelis and Riccardo Fubini specifically endeavour to describe the full depth of these practices. While Florence certainly reinvented politics, the latter was first and foremost the business of the reggimento, the socio-political group that, having mastered their inner workings, persistently engaged in political activities, and whose members continually moved from one position to another, often in competition with one another. [18] In medieval and Renaissance Florence, much like today, procedures were also instruments that could be used for tactical coups, to disqualify a rival or encourage certain tendencies; all the actors involved consequently prized them highly, as shown in the articles contributed by Piero Gualtieri, Riccardo Fubini and Nicolai Rubinstein. Nonetheless, we must be careful not to view the interactions that these procedures authorised as a relatively direct application of the normative and constitutional ideals put forth by contemporary figures, and more specifically by the brilliant intellectuals that Florence produced or attracted (Leonardo Bruni, Niccolò Machiavelli, Coluccio Salutati and Francesco Guicciardini). It is also important to consider seriously the normative frameworks for action, as they – sometimes very specifically – can explain why a certain procedure was adopted, but also because they constitute reservoirs of meaning on which both critics and apologists drew. [19] Analysing the uniqueness of the normative framework that dominated the Italian comuni and Florence in particular – while highlighting its coherence, tensions and evolution – is a necessary part of any global analysis, as shown in the articles contributed by Hagen Keller and Laura De Angelis. Finally, these institutional mechanisms possessed their own logic and weight, which went beyond their various social, instrumental and ideological uses. This dimension is highlighted in the articles by Hagen Keller, Piero Gualtieri, Riccardo Fubini and Nicolai Rubinstein, the latter forcefully reminding the reader of constraints that were as “trivial” as they were inescapable, such as the difficulty of reaching the required quorum in a society made up of very busy merchants, or the material dimension of such mechanisms, with a big enough room to host the Grand Council’s sessions being a prerequisite for the Council’s very existence.

A multi-century history in political experimentation

13One of the advantages of working on Florentine political experimentation is that it has such a long history. [20] A city of Roman origin, the seat of a bishopric since the third century, and the residence of Tuscany’s Carolingian marquesses, for many decades Florence remained an “invisible township”, [21] less because of lacunae in its archives than due to the very nature of its institutions. The significant changes that the city witnessed at the end of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth centuries did not, in fact, immediately translate into a clearly defined political regime, in the hands of a limited aristocracy surrounding the bishop or the consulate. The consulate’s sphere of influence, when described in the existing documents, was for a long time limited to foreign relations and criminal justice. For decades, the city was governed by various and competing factions. Starting in the 1170s and 1180s, the need to control the expanding territory around Florence granted the city’s consuls (consules civitatis) – most often recruited among the milites, the traditional aristocracy [22] – more clearly defined functions; these consuls would ultimately come to dominate the city’s government by the end of the twelfth century. [23] By the beginning of the thirteenth century, Florence had acquired a clear collective political identity that allowed it to distance itself from imperial supervision. Hagen Keller has proposed a global analysis of the political practices of the Italian municipalities for this era, rather than focusing on Florence alone.

14During this period, Florence experienced great demographic growth, going from some 10,000 inhabitants c.1175 to 60,000 in the middle of the thirteenth century, ultimately peaking in the 1320s and 1330s with perhaps 120,000 residents. During the decades prior to the arrival of the Black Death (1348-1350), Florence was by population one of the largest cities in Europe, just behind Paris, [24] as well as one of the most opulent. Over the course of the thirteenth century, it became a major economic hub, in terms of trade, industry (centred on the production of wool and silk), and finance. Its trading companies, both well-established and powerful, and possessing significant capital, had established branches in all the main European cities and along the Mediterranean, thus becoming the financiers to the popes and princes. [25]

15However, this prosperity was not based on a fixed political system. At the end of the thirteenth century, the popolo, which united the leading elements of the social classes promoted by the rise in industry, commerce and finance, emerged victorious from its fight against the former governing class, the milites, who were disqualified as “magnates” whose violence might disturb the social order. [26] From then on, the “regime of the popolo”, strongly supported by the guilds, established itself, creating the Priorato delle Arte (“Priors of the guilds”, 1282) and excluding the magnates through the Ordinances of Justice (the first of which was passed in 1293). In a few decades, the number of offices proliferated, each with more precisely defined functions, alongside an increasing number of civil servants. The city-state thus adopted political tools that would allow it to govern a rapidly expanding territory at the regional level. [27] Florentine politics were based on the broad participation of citizens and had no equivalent elsewhere on the peninsula. It even involved artisans and semi-skilled tradesmen, albeit limiting their role to the large assemblies and junior offices. [28] Although the city’s institutional framework underwent no profound changes after 1295 until the end of the fifteenth century, it was nevertheless subjected to many additions and revisions. These were rarely seen as radical departures, but rather as a gradual shift from the exceptional use of a rule to its standard use. For example, the lottery system used to appoint certain office holders from the end of the thirteenth century ultimately became in 1328 the official mode of selection for the priors and the Gonfaloniere of Justice, the most important members of the executive branch, as Piero Gualtieri analyses in this issue. Likewise, Riccardo Fubini shows how extraordinary recourse to a balìa (the delegation, for a set period of time, of the political and administrative powers held by an officer or council to a special select committee, in general composed of ten citizens), which already played a significant role in 1363, became an almost permanent monitoring instrument after the return of Cosimo de Medici in 1434. These changes were in response to the instability of Florentine politics, which would become a major intellectual topic for Machiavelli in his Florentine Histories. [29] The Histories overflow with accounts of feuds and revolts, conspiracies and coups d’état; most of the time, the victory of one camp led to the massive exile of another in order to ensure social peace. [30] Major political crises in turn produced “regime” changes, in the sense that historians of Florence have given to the term “reggimento”, defined above. As Gene Brucker has compellingly shown, constitutional stability can mask deep modifications in a political system. This led him to contrast the “popular” version of the “guild regime”, which anchored political functioning in the world of craftsmen and artisans in the wake of the 1378 Ciompi Revolt, with the version that succeeded it from 1382 and began to stabilise at the end of the 1390s. [31] A small group of wealthy citizens then took power, fully participating in politics while vigorously affirming their commitment to republican institutions and strengthening consensus among the dominant class and citizens in general by involving a significant number of the latter in the management of public affairs. Ricardo Fubini and Laura De Angelis study these dynamics in their contributions to this issue.

16While Cosimo de Medici seized power upon his return to Florence in the fall of 1434 after a year in exile, this did not, however, provoke a real constitutional revolution. The Medici family established a sort of invisible or masked Signoria that has often been studied and whose relative continuity with the period preceding it is highlighted by Riccardo Fubini. [32] True changes only began to occur at the end of the fifteenth century. In 1494, the Medicis were once against ousted from power. As the Italian Wars began, Florence experimented with a new institutional system, established around a “Grand Council” that imitated Venetian institutions but whose political dynamics differed quite radically from those of the “Most Serene Republic” and in turn gave rise to one of Florence’s most “popular” eras. This phase of Florentine history is better documented in French-language research, in part thanks to the impressive work conducted by Jean-Louis Fournel and Jean-Claude Zancarini. The guilds were consequently relegated to a secondary role and no longer provided the framework for the organisation of political life. In this issue, Nicolai Rubinstein examines how the Grand Council operated, based on the electoral procedures defined between 1495 and 1499. Florence’s political and institutional history then experienced a more than three-decade long period of political struggle that ultimately led to the Republic’s demise and the creation of the Duchy of Florence (1530-1532). The profound transformation of institutional mechanisms, the assertion of a hereditary dynasty, and the pope’s, then the Holy Roman Emperor’s, recognition of the Grand Duchy all combined to establish a new state, which would only disappear when Tuscany became part of unified Italy some three centuries later.

The invention of the Popolo

17Thanks to its new and romantic notion of the “people’s” strength and vigour, Florence came to be viewed as a model for “popular” regimes, albeit not without some misconceptions. At the end of the nineteenth century, in his master opus Magnati e popolani in Firenze dal 1280 al 1295 (1899), Gaetano Salvemini (1873-1957) suggested structuring Florence’s history around the conflicts between two major groups, “the magnates” (“magnati”) and “the people” (“popolani”), which he defined as two social classes with opposite economic foundations – land ownership on the one hand, and financial, industrial and commercial wealth on the other. This characterisation is oversimplified and does not reflect the complexity of social cleavages and connections. Nonetheless, it clearly poses a central question regarding political reinvention: what is left of the popolo – which appears to have little to do with what we might call “the people”, the heroic historical actor of the nineteenth century onwards – once the historiographical fog of the “popular regime” has dissipated? [33] Research has been particularly attentive to the role of the guilds – the Arti – which shifted over the course of the thirteenth century from being a technical means to organise labour and professional life (albeit with significant variations across municipalities) to a fully political entity at the heart of the transformation of citizens’ power. [34]

18Recent studies have clearly demonstrated the political construction of the popolo during the first decades of the thirteenth century as an autonomous organisation in opposition to the knights (milites) who had seized consular power, a sort of state-within-the-state engendered by the city’s economic boom. [35] The first specific demands by the emerging guilds were made in the 1190s. By the 1220s, however, a number of territorially based organisations were beginning to form that were able to both participate in armed struggles and act as the mouthpiece for the collective interests of the res publica. From the 1240s, in the middle of the clash between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines and with the support of the latter, these armed territorial organisations (probably based around parishes initially, before the gonfalonieri existed) banded together under the command of a capitano del popolo (captain of the people), usually a foreigner to the city called upon to hold provisional office and endowed with political power: consequently, between 1244 and 1245, two or three captains of the popolo appeared alongside the podestà. But it was only after gaining power between 1250 and 1260 – marking the government of the Primo Popolo – that this “people’s” movement, composed of tradesmen, relatively well-off craftsmen, judges and notaries, as well as the families of supportive milites, reached full political maturity. The military association (societas militum) was then disbanded. However, the popolo’s ascension in Florence did not occur via an open conflict between milites and populares, but through the gradual yet irregular takeover of political and administrative power, without the transformation of the institutional system. The popolo supported a political model dominated by public authority, which judiciously managed public goods and finances and did not grant any privileges to the former knight class.

19Things began to change with the advent of the second popolo, this time born of strong social mobility and the expansion of trade and professional organisations amidst the deeply disturbed context of the 1270s. [36] This incarnation of the popolo was characterised by close political collaboration between city administration and the guilds, seen in the establishment of the Priorati delle Arti (“Priors of the guilds”) in 1282 and especially in the Ordinances of Justice (January 1293), which ousted the former governing class, the “magnates”, from politics while simultaneously adopting a conception of the comune of Florence as a “sovereign federation of equal and autonomous guilds”. [37] Not only was it necessary to be a member of a guild to hold political office – c.1300, the city’s 21 guilds accounted for some 7000 to 8000 individuals, or roughly one-third of the adult male population – but nominations for these high-ranking positions were based on the principle that all the major guilds (Arti maggiori) were equal. An individual’s exercise of power was legitimised by consensus among the guilds. From then on, Florence’s political history was the product of heightened tensions between the well-known guild-based political system on the one hand, and on the other, an oligarchical shift that increasingly sought to consolidate power in the hands of the most powerful families associated with the major guilds. Over the course of the fourteenth century, Florentine corporatism – the “Republic of the Guilds” – clearly manifested itself several times, in particular during moments of crisis, such as the tyrannical rule of Gautier de Brienne (1342-1343) and the Ciompi Revolt (c.1370-1380), when the concept gave new life to the demand for “the whole city’s consensus” (“il contentamento […] di tucta la citta”, 1378). But the defeat of the Ciompi Revolt in the 1380s also marked the failure of an urban political system supported by the corporatist guilds, associated by a number of contemporaries with the “popolazzo”, the lower classes. Broad popular consensus was replaced by the wisdom of the “great men”; the fraternity enjoyed among guild members was replaced with an orderly and hierarchical system of family lineage. In fifteenth-century Florence, the model of the family was frequently used to envision political relations within a society dominated by an oligarchical structure and hierarchical values. [38] This was the new form of Florentine republicanism, based on the consensus of a large political class, both unified and undifferentiated and holding an increasing number of positions, which was described by Leonardo Bruni during the first few years of the fifteenth century.

20These are thus the two contrasting faces of Florentine republicanism: the first, egalitarian and guild-based, viewed the city as a federation of equal and autonomous trade organisations, while the second, more elitist, claimed to govern in the best interest of all through the “consensus” of “wise and prudent” citizens. [39]

An invisible princely regime?

21The evolution of Florence’s political regime from the end of the fourteenth century has often been described as an oligarchical transformation. After the failure of the 1378-1382 popular regime and the disappearance of the guild regime, a small number of families, long present in positions of state power, are said to have stolen political power, thus subsequently facilitating the Medici power grab (the family would almost always retain a foothold in Florence after 1434). However, this outline only crudely begins to account for the numerous and contradictory modifications of the Florentine political system: while the city broke away from its historical institutions, the number of citizens eligible to govern increased considerably and the latter’s commitment to the republican tradition did not appear to waver during the fifteenth century. This is the apparent paradox that we must resolve. [40]

22Alongside the creation of the Council of Two Hundred in 1411, the era’s main deliberative body, what the Florentines called the reggimento also emerged: a group of men who were deemed eligible to hold the highest political positions in the Republic, thus constituting an active political class. Viewed in a broad sense, the group was relatively large – about 2000 citizens – but its core was composed of a more limited number of families, loyal to the faction in power and with long-standing access to political posts. This de facto institutionalisation means that this group is sometimes viewed as a form of aristocracy that monopolised power over the long term. Formally, such an analysis is largely justified: after the two important moments when the government opened its doors to new members – in the 1340s, during the last guild government, after Gautier de Brienne was ousted from power, and then again between 1378 and 1382 – few new families were allowed to become part of the Signoria during the fifteenth century, marking a period of social closure. [41] But the perspective of a stable political class over time masks a number of deep transformations in its nature and the values it espoused. While the popolo was essentially held at arm’s length from political power, the major political conflicts that shook city life led the ruling class to break dramatically with the values of the former consular class, in order to adopt those promoted by the popolo during the thirteenth century. The importance of consensus, the common good, and the dignity of all citizens, which had been the backbone of the guild’s political agenda, was thus enshrined at the heart of Florentine republicanism. [42] The scope of this transformation can be seen in the Grand Council, which inaugurated a period of open access to the government at the end of 1494: by the following year, the new institution already included close to 3500 citizens. But the admission criteria were no longer those required by the guilds. They stemmed instead from the new political conceptions of Florentine republicanism, which placed “wisdom”, handed down by elders who had already been in power, at the centre of its selection mechanism. Grand Council members had to be the sons, grandsons or great-grandsons of men who had been permitted to hold the highest offices – priors of the guilds, who in the middle of the fifteenth century successively became the “Priors of Liberty”, the “Good Men” and finally the gonfalonieri. [43] The Grand Council facilitated access to power and fostered greater equality among citizens; it acquired the right to appoint the city’s judges and the power to confirm, with a two-thirds majority, any proposal approved by the Signoria, the Collegi and the Council of the Eighty, before it passed into law. Nevertheless, the Republic was based on birth privilege, a blood right (jus sanguinis) that was therefore not the sole purview of the aristocracy.

23Was this fifteenth-century oligarchy, which was formally interrupted in 1494, in fact a princely regime in disguise, implemented upon the return of Cosimo de Medici in 1434? It appears that the Florentine political system did not experience any real constitutional changes, at least not before the Pazzi attempt to assassinate Lorenzo de Medici and his brother Giuliano in Florence’s cathedral in April 1478. During these first few decades, Cosimo the Elder did not hold more positions than notable professional politicians. He served twice on the twelve-man Buonomini (“the Good Men”) confraternity, twice as one of the sixteen gonfalonieri, and three times as the Gonfaloniere of Justice (the highest position), a total of only two years in power. However, even though no one was ignorant of Cosimo de Medici’s immense wealth or the connections he had established within and without Florence, he presented himself as a simple citizen from a “popular” family, eager to gain the support of his fellow citizens. He employed practices that had been adopted by the Albizzi, an opposing faction in power since the end of the fourteenth century, to skilfully manipulate the electoral system. Without formally altering the voting rules, which established the list of citizens deemed fit to rule and from which names were randomly drawn, Cosimo increasingly relied on “handpicked” elections: in other words, co-option pure and simple by scrutineers favourable to the regime, thanks to the intervention of plenipotentiary magistracies (balìe) composed of loyalists. From this point of view, the “masked dominance” of the Medici family was based less on institutional processes, and more on consensus-building through the mobilisation of personal networks (friends, relatives, neighbours, and acquaintances), as well as artistic, intellectual and religious patronage. From Cosimo to Lorenzo, the power of the Medici family certainly became more personalised: after 1478, the political system was reorganised so as to concentrate more power on this family and allow it to better control the whole system. However, the constitutional foundations of the former comune were ultimately not challenged.

Three methodological and theoretical issues

24Taking these crucial historiographical questions as their starting point, the articles in this issue will attempt to tackle three methodological and theoretical issues that are likely to interest political scientists across a variety of disciplines.

Civic humanism and republicanism

25The first issue concerns civic humanism and its relation to republicanism. Following in the footsteps of Hans Baron, John Pocock and Quentin Skinner, significant research has been conducted on this topic, including a sizeable number of studies in French. Although the notion of civic humanism was only coined in the twentieth century (by Hans Baron, whose seminal work has still not been translated into French [44]) to describe the ideals that emerged in Florence at the very end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth centuries, it is today widely accepted that a unique ideological universe was created during this era. It had numerous roots in classical Greek and Roman philosophy, as well as in the political philosophy of the Middle Ages, but proposed a unique mixture of all these, which would ultimately have important repercussions on the constitution of a specifically modern republican tradition. A large portion of the volumes published in Cambridge University Press’s “Ideas in Context” collection are devoted to this topic. From humanists such as Leonardo Bruni at the beginning of the fifteenth century to Machiavelli and, to a lesser extent, Guicciardini in the first decades of the sixteenth century, the role of Florence’s intellectuals was crucial for the development of this tradition. While this is widely accepted, we must not overlook the extent to which this production was shaped by the Florentine political and ideological context. Although the most important texts by these writers, Machiavelli especially, have managed to transcend the ages and continue to speak to us today, they were nonetheless the product of a very specific universe. Greater comprehension of this universe is necessary to better understand these first republican theories “in context”, but also to appreciate how such theories were able to build upon the foundations of a political experience whose relative universality should not be underestimated – or which, at any rate, should be viewed in the context of democratic universality that is necessarily multiple and diverse.

26French research is not as familiar with the historiographical and theoretical controversies which have accompanied works attempting to highlight the creation of this republican “tradition”. [45] Let us briefly review here some of the most important aspects of these controversies. Firstly, and most importantly from the perspective of historical context, civic humanism developed and transformed into a sort of official ideology for the Florentine Republic at the very moment that the latter was transitioning towards a more oligarchical regime controlled by a semi-professional ruling class, as seen above. On this point, Laura De Angelis and Riccardo Fubini provide invaluable insights. [46] We obviously do not seek to reduce civic humanism to its sociological basis, as its strictly political and normative dimensions also possessed their own autonomy and effectiveness, but it would likewise be highly questionable to overlook this aspect, especially since it influences our view of republicanism.

27At least three cleavages divide the theories of republicanism that were elaborated in the Florentine Republic or in reference to it. [47] The first cleavage relates to the role of conflict in the Republic: while conflict was viewed as a fundamental danger throughout Florence’s history, its real importance was at all times crucial, and it was not until Machiavelli that a major political theory centred on conflict appeared – even if, from a normative perspective, Machiavelli praised civil conflict, whose resolution would come from the law and not from civil war. The second cleavage concerns the role of civic participation in republicanism. As the articles in this issue demonstrate, Florence was simultaneously a political regime that favoured citizen self-government and a system largely controlled by a ruling political class, the balance between the two shifting considerably from one period to another. Civic humanist texts were generally penned by intellectuals who adopted the perspective of the ruling class and praised the latter’s ability to govern in the public interest. They would mention civic participation and self-governance, but only as secondary matters. This tendency was in turn bolstered by the majority of texts that followed in the republican tradition, including the work currently being done by Philippe Pettit. [48] However, this “paternalist” form of republicanism existed alongside a “participatory” form, expressed for example by certain leaders of minor guilds, echoes of which can be found in subsequent revolutionary traditions. The third cleavage, which partially overlaps with the second, stemmed from the role played by the lower classes in the Republic. As mentioned above, the Florentine popolo was far from what we might call “the people” today (hence why Machiavelli’s famous phrases regarding conflict between the aristocracy and “the people” must be interpreted in context). The urban poor referred to as the popolo minuto were excluded from citizenship, as were women, rural dwellers in the neighbouring countryside (the contado) and in conquered territories (the dominio), who enjoyed a certain level of autonomy by preserving forms of self-governance, but who could not institutionally influence politics in the city. The significance of the Ciompi Revolt stems precisely from the fact that it involved the lower classes demanding a place within the republican order. The entire history of the Florentine Republic was dominated by the question of what size the pool of eligible rulers should be. Supporters of the governo stretto, a “limited” government concentrated around the major guilds, important families, and long-standing notables clashed with advocates for a governo largo, which would include more members of the minor guilds, new families, and the lower classes. Similar cleavages would also appear in later incarnations of the republican tradition, albeit with a variety of different dynamics.

Florentine electoral procedures: lottery, election, and co-option

28The second issue involves analysing electoral procedures, including lottery systems, elections, and co-option. From this perspective, Florentine history is exceptionally rich, to the extent that readers may sometimes feel overwhelmed by its countless variations and combinations, as well as procedural debates that are difficult to understand due to the number of interweaving principles, tactical strategies, pragmatic demands, and material constraints that were at play. This impression of complexity is further accentuated by temporal and contextual distance. To put this in perspective, one might consider the proliferation of different electoral procedures in France since the 1789 Revolution, as well as the diversity of their uses. What, therefore, can non-specialists learn from Florentine electoral history?

29First of all that, over the long term, the polarisation surrounding elections was not the outcome or culmination of lengthy democratic experimentation, but rather an exception in political and republican history. This phenomenon, abundantly documented for the case of Athens, is examined in this issue with regard to Florence and other Italian municipalities. The extent of the lottery system, but also the almost infinite variety of “compromise votes” and co-option techniques at diverse levels, is quite striking. With regard to procedures, elections were neither an avant-garde technique, nor one that was fundamentally foreign: they were merely one mechanism among others. Etymologically, an election could not be mistaken for just the voting of representatives, as it was synonymous with selection, and could be conducted by “consensus” or “per rodulum et per sortem”, the random drawing of names written on parchment pieces (cf. Hagen Keller’s article in this issue). The articles contained herein demonstrate that, over four centuries, Florence did not gradually evolve towards a representative government, moving from an “inferior” to a “superior” level of political development. While it is possible, and necessary, to find the genealogical origins of modern electoral techniques by looking backwards in this fashion, we must guard against teleology, as several authors have already argued. [49] And although it is certainly true that the revolutions of the late eighteenth century largely marked a break with the past, historical sociology has long shown that the contemporary notions of suffrage as the expression of individual opinions, and of elections as a mandate handed down by the sovereign people to representatives chosen to act in their name, were far from being immediately established in modern “democracies”. [50] From the perspective of twenty-first-century developments, especially with regard to the concept of “global governance”, Florentine history not only confirms these results, but also suggests that the triumph of the election model, rather than marking a culminating point in political history, might only be a historical parenthesis, or a particular modality that needs to be contextualised within a global history of politics.

30In addition, this long Tuscan experiment confirms what the historical sociology of politics has argued the past two or three decades: it is impossible to attribute an essentialist meaning to procedures like elections and lotteries. The famous Aristotelian dichotomy between election as an aristocratic instrument and lottery as a democratic instrument made sense in Athens at the time; [51] nonetheless, we should refrain from making this opposition absolute. Moreover, while it is necessary to elaborate ideal types to better compare highly different ages and realities, [52] establishing a pure theory that contrasts election and lottery or purports to analyse the essence of one or the other is highly dubious. [53] In the context of compromise voting as studied by Hagen Keller at various levels, elections, lotteries and various forms of co-option could all be used for a single official objective: choosing the best, the wisest, and the most just to take decisions in the interest of the common good. [54] During the oligarchical period that followed the Ciompi Revolt at the turn of the century, lottery was a relatively effective means to encourage consensus among the dominant social classes. [55] While the 1460s saw republican demands made against the Medicis, these did not call for elections to replace lotteries, but merely condemned the “handpicked” selection of those who were to hold public office. [56] In fact, Florentine “elections” were almost never seen as a means for the base to pick its representatives, as they largely took place within electoral commissions that were themselves composed in a great variety of ways. Moreover, because these elections did not select candidates competing for the same offices but instead sought to include a limited number of names on the list of eligible candidates, they resembled tests rather than competitive examinations. And when the debate on lotteries versus elections began to adopt Aristotelian overtones at the end of the 1490s, after three years of controversy in the Grand Council – examined by Nicolai Rubinstein in this issue – this was far from being a definitive state of affairs, as controversies in the subsequent years would reveal. [57] Lotteries have no more inherent and atemporal signification than elections do, independently of the practices that give them meaning – if only because, as in Florence’s case, the circle of individuals from whom a random selection is made can vary greatly and be defined in opposing ways.

Political representation in Florence

31Another aspect of the normative universe that helped to legitimise Florentine electoral practices merits our attention: conceptions of political representation. Twenty-first-century readers are likely struck by the fact that the individuals and bodies that could make decisions for the city were not elected. Although popular assemblies were doubtless at the origins of the Italian comuni, even before the consulate (consulatus) was established, [58] they gradually lost their initial importance and by the twelfth century, if not earlier, no longer played a fundamental role. During the comune’s golden age, they essentially functioned as plebiscites in the form of a “parliament” (parlamento) that met on the Piazza della Signoria. And yet, these unelected bodies (according to today’s definition of elections) were far from being synonymous with paternalism or authoritarianism: on the contrary, they were inseparable from the assertion of a certain “Florentine liberty”. Moreover, the lower classes never demanded elections as an instrument of popular sovereignty during their extremely heated socio-political struggles, in general focusing primarily on gaining participation in the existing forms of representation. [59]

32Numerous forms of representation existed in Florence. Starting in the thirteenth century, the concept of representation was effectively used by philosophers and jurists (in particular Marsilius of Padua) to describe how groups could survive and act over time, without meeting in a plenary assembly, or at least without this meeting marking a key moment. Simply put, the legal and political representational link in question did not stem from a concept of representation by mandate, which we automatically, but mistakenly, mistake for political representation in general. The legal and intellectual historian Hasso Hofmann has shown how the legal and political concept of representation by mandate (the German Vertretung) was a later, fourteenth-century invention, and one that long existed alongside the very different concept of representation by identity (repraesentatio identitatis). [60]

33The latter notion, developed within the framework of corporatist and communal law, viewed representatives as a pars pro toto, a part that could act as the whole, rather than for the whole. From the perspective of identity representation, representatives were an embodiment of the whole; they allowed for the real presence of the whole rather than making present an absent reality – the represented – as is the case in representation by mandate. Representatives thus also make the unity of the multiplicity possible. The contrast between identity representation (embodiment) and mandate representation is particularly striking in the examples, analysed by Hagen Keller, where the different statutory groups composing the city (the guilds, districts, etc.) were granted the right to have representatives within these bodies, but not to select these individuals. The objective of electoral procedures at the time was to compose a group that could best embody the whole and give it form, and not to ask already existing groups – whether they were guilds or “the people” of Florence – to delegate their power to proxies. In this context, elections were only a potential means among others to reach this objective, and were generally combined with other procedures, such as lotteries. While real political practices often strayed from this ideal norm, the gap was not necessarily much greater than the one that exists today in Western Europe between constitutional norms regarding the people’s sovereignty and democracy as it “really exists”.

34Highlighting this dualism in the conceptions of representation [61] – a dualism that cannot be superimposed on the election/lottery dichotomy – provides valuable historical insight. We must guard against anachronistically imposing our contemporary notions onto the normative universe and practices of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is nevertheless possible to construct an ideal type of representation that differs from the one centred on the principal-agent relationship. Contemporary English-language political theory has focused on the latter since the seminal work conducted by Hanna Pitkin, thereby missing the historical depth and specific context provided by representation by identity. [62] However, rethinking representation as identity, or to use a less outdated term, embodiment, is likely to make us view the various theories elaborated by Thomas Hobbes, Carl Schmitt, Pierre Bourdieu and Michael Saward – and which emphasise how the representative helps to construct the represented group – very differently. [63] The concept of representation-as-embodiment is at the same time a resource to better analyse all of the situations where an individual or a group of individuals does not so much claim to speak on behalf of a larger group, but rather claims to embody it. This phenomenon runs throughout history, from Louis XIV’s famous (and apocryphal) “I am the State” (“L’État c’est moi”) and the American Constitution’s “We the People”, to Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99%” and the attempts at representation waged by organs of “global governance”, and the counter-summits challenging them.

35Of course, it would be absurd to suggest that these historical claims to representation are substantially similar to those made by Florence’s rulers. More modestly, it is merely a matter of understanding – to paraphrase Pierre Bourdieu – that what history has made, it can unmake. Amidst the political transformations of the twenty-first century, who could exclude the possibility that conceptual frameworks that seem to have lost all real importance or been forgotten (while sometimes still being effective, but in a non self-reflexive manner) might once again become relevant, in the hands of actors whose nature and objectives the citizens and intellectuals of Florence could never have imagined?


36Florentine chronology: from the birth of the comune to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (twelfth to sixteenth centuries) [64]

1 – The slow establishment of the medieval comune (twelfth and thirteenth centuries)

37Florence gradually gained autonomy from the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, becoming one of the most influential comuni in northern and central Italy. The conflict between the Guelphs (supporters of the papacy) and the Ghibellines (supporters of the empire) tore apart the major noble families, concluding in favour of the Guelphs. The mendicant orders settled in Florence at the beginning of the thirteenth century: the Franciscans on the site of the future Basilica of Santa Croce, and the Dominicans on that of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. This period saw a number of developments: the creation and increasing influence of the guilds (the Arti), as commercial and artisanal activity developed; the organisation and rise in power of the popolo in relation to the noble families; the organisation of this unique political body, alongside the commune’s other institutions, into twenty military companies, with their own gonfalon and council, and at their head, the capitano del popolo, a foreigner to the city called upon to hold this office temporarily and endowed with great powers; and the transition from the consulatus (the supreme magistrate, generally local) to the podestà (a supreme magistrate of foreign origin called upon to rule for a specific period of time).

tableau im1
Beginning of the twelfth century Slow emergence of an autonomous comune, which long remained a group of powers without any coherent organisation; first republican period. 1125 First offensive collective action by the Florentines, who capture and destroy the neighbouring city of Fiesole; first mention of the existence of consuls in Florence, whose power concerns foreign relations and criminal justice. 1154 The imperial legate concedes civil and criminal jurisdiction to Florence regarding the surrounding territories under the city’s authority (the contado), recognised by the emperor in 1183. 1159 First (known) statutory texts in Florence; beginnings of a city constitution. 1163 Emperor Frederick I succeeds in re-establishing the imperial administration in Tuscany. 1166 First mention of Council of one hundred to one hundred and fifty Boni Homines. 1170s and 1180s Prominence of the city’s consuls (consules civitatis); beginning of the consular comune. 1175 Florence attacks and defeats its powerful neighbour, Siena. End of the twelfth century Beginning of large-scale trade, especially of the wool cloth dyed in Florence. c.1180 Appearance of the Arte di Calimala guild. 1182 First certain proof of a Florentine constitutum (a Constitution in the broad sense). 1193 First mention of the “Priors of the arts” in Florentine political life; first appointment of a podestà as an emergency solution
tableau im2
1197 Return to a large group of consuls (17). 1200-1201 First foreign podestà called to Florence. 1202 Creation of a direct property tax, calculated according to the allivrement system (establishment of taxable income), future basis for Florence’s direct taxation system. 1202-1204 First mention of the Arte del Cambio (bankers’ guild). 1209 Florence refuses to swear allegiance to Emperor Otto IV. 1211 End of the consular system in Florence. 1212-1218 First mention of Arte dei Giudici e Notai (judges and notaries, April 1212), followed by the Arte della Lana (wool carders and merchants, June 1212), the Arte della Seta (silk weavers and merchants, 1218), the Arte delle Medici e Speziali (physicians and pharmacists), the Arte dei Vaiai e Pellicciai (furriers and skinners). 1216 A series of vendettas between two families, from which emerges the Guelph/Ghibelline conflict. 1224 Florence’s General Council is modified: 120 citizens are added (20 in each of the 6 districts, or sestieri). 1226 The Franciscans take up residence at Santa Croce. 1228 The pope agrees to transfer the episcopal see from Fiesole to Florence. 1235 The silver florin starts being minted; peace with Siena; violent turmoil leads to the destruction of the city’s palace in June. 1239 The Ghibellines triumph; for the first time, the Guelphs begin a mass exodus from the city. 1244 First “popolo regime”: an insurrection topples the Ghibellines, supported by the nobles and the rich, and instates the popolo regime; the capitano del popolo position is created. 1252 The gold florin is the first gold currency to be minted in great quantity in Western Europe since the Carolingian era. 1255 Construction begins on the popolo’s palace, later known as the Bargello Palace. 1260 Florentine troops warring against Siena are defeated in Montaperti. The Ghibellines return to power and put an end to the first popolo regime. 1266 In November, a new supra-partisan popular regime is instated; conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines quickly resumes. 1278 Charles I of Anjou is named podestà of Florence, a position he holds until 1282. 1279 Cardinal Latino Malabranca, the papal legate, arrives in Florence (on 8 October) to appease the conflict between Guelphs and Ghibellines; the people’s general assembly (“parliament”) grants him full powers (on 19 November). 1280 In January, the Government of Fourteen is created, bringing together Guelphs and Ghibellines, at the urging of the papal legate, the cardinal Latino; their functions cease in May 1283.

2 – The republic of the second “Popolo regime”: 1282-1434

38This period marks the political apogee of the Florentine Republic, sometimes compared at the time to a new Athens or the Roman Republic. The city continued its economic growth and became a major hub for craftsmanship (the wool industry in particular), trade and finance, as well as one of the largest and richest agglomerations in Western Europe. The major Florentine companies permitted the largest concentration of capital in medieval Europe and invented double-entry accounting. Now fully independent, the city-state dominated all of Tuscany. The birthplace of humanism paired this philosophy with its communal political traditions in order to produce what would later be called civic humanism, shortly before discovering perspective in art and initiating the artistic Renaissance. At the same time, Florence modernised its administrative management and displayed remarkable political ingenuity in terms of the proliferation of deliberative procedures, experimenting with numerous combinations of different types of elections and lotteries, and increasing the number of advisory councils with growing deliberative powers. However, the city also had recourse to procedures that were designed to deal with emergency situations by suspending traditional constitutional norms. The Popolo became a hegemonic power and the former aristocracy was marginalised. The Priorato, which had initially recruited its members exclusively from the major guilds, became the central political body, flanked by two Collegi that broadly linked the ruling class with municipal management. It was nonetheless offset by other magistracies and legislative councils. Throughout this period, important conflicts pitted the various major, middle and minor guilds against each other in a competition for power within the city’s administration.

The beginnings of the second “Popolo regime” and the apogee of corporatist power (1282-1328)

39The magnates were prohibited access to the main political offices and Florence established its first stable constitutional foundations. This was the apogee of the corporations’ power, even if periods that were more favourable to the minor guilds alternated with others where the major guilds were in control. The lower classes (popolo minuto), however, was still excluded from institutional politics.

tableau im3
1282 The representatives of Charles of Anjou are expelled from Florence; the second “popolo regime” is created. The three priors (in June) chosen from the Calimala (foreign trade), banking and wool guilds, become six in August (adding members from the physicians and pharmacist, silk weavers, and furriers guilds). 1284-1333 New city walls are built, 8.5km in length and dotted with 63 towers; the city now has approximately 120,000 residents. 1293 On 17 January, the Ordinances of Justice are passed; the Gonfaloniere of Justice is created, a sort of primus interpares responsible for enforcing the ordinances; the number of priors remains variable for a certain time, 14 in 1304, 12 from 1313 to 1315, 16 in 1316; following the expulsion of Gautier de Brienne, Duke of Athens, in 1343, their number is fixed at 8, plus the gonfaloniere, a number that would remain unchanged until the end of the Republic in 1531-1532. 1299 Construction begins on the Palazzo della Signoria (now the Palazzo Vecchio), completed in 1314. 1300 Dante is named one of the priors of Florence; as a partisan of the White Guelphs, he is forced into exile in 1302; he works on the Divine Comedy from c.1308 until his death in 1321. 1309 Bankruptcy of the powerful Bonsignori trading company. 1313 Robert, King of Naples, accepts the city’s Signoria. 1315 On 29 August, the Florentines and their allies (Siena, Pistoia, Prato, etc.) are defeated at Montaperti by a coalition of combatants from Pisa and Lucca supporting the imperial troops. 1325 Defeat at the battle of Altopascio by the armies of Castruccio Castracani (Lucca); Charles of Anjou, Duke of Calabria, accepts the Signoria of Florence and the contado for 10 years; he dies in November 1328.

The quest for consensus and growing social conflict (1328-1382)

40The random drawing of magistrates and advisors from preselected lists of names established by electoral commissions, who were then chosen to rule for short periods of time (a few months), became widespread after 1328. This procedure would become one of the hallmarks of the Florentine constitutional tradition. The objective was to reach consensus within the dominant class by organising, in a regulated manner, the alternation between the different groups in power and ensuring a more impartial form of governance: out of the 50,000 to 70,000 inhabitants, 4000 were preselected and 1300 to 1400 had their names placed inside the lottery purse – in other words, approximately one third of the members of officially recognised corporations (and thus of full citizens properly speaking). However, the preliminary constitution of the list of individuals deemed fit to be randomly selected and the uneven distribution of selection quotas between the major and minor guilds allowed the elite to tighten its grip and counter the dynamics of self-governance; this in turn provoked the Ciompi Revolt. The influence of Petrarch, a forerunner of humanism, could be strongly felt throughout the city, as across the rest of Italy.

tableau im4
1328 The legislative councils establish the lottery system, on the basis of lists of individuals deemed fit to become priors. 1334 Giotto is responsible for managing the construction of the city’s campanile. 1342 Gautier de Brienne, sent by Robert, King of Naples, is elected to Florence’s Signoria for life. 1343 Gautier de Brienne is chased out by an insurrection. 1342-46 Financial crash; bankruptcy of the Bardi, Peruzzi, Acciaiuoli and Bonnacorsi companies, against a background of continental financial instability caused by the Hundred Years War, which leaves Florence economically quite weak. 1343-48 Period during which the minor guilds balance power in their favour. 1348 The Black Plague ravages the city: of the 90,000 to 120,000 inhabitants of Florence at its peak, between 40% and 60% are taken by the plague. 1358 Guelph “Ammoniti” law, a sort of institutionalised political inquisition. 1364 In July, the Florentines triumph definitively over the Republic of Pisa. 1375-78 Florence breaks the Guelph alliance and goes to war against the Holy See, in the context of the papal schism between Rome and Avignon (The War of the Eight Saints); on 31 March 1376, Gregory XI excommunicates the Florentines. 1378 May-June: the popular leader Salvestro de Medici is named Gonfaloniere of Justice; on 21 June, there is violent rioting against the leaders of the Guelph party; on 21 July, the Ciompi Revolt begins, led by poor textile workers and craftsmen excluded from the corporations and thus from access to political office; the carder Michele di Lando declares himself Gonfaloniere of Justice; important constitutional changes occur in favour of the guilds as a whole; three new guilds are created, which obtain political recognition; many minuti become eligible to hold higher-ranking offices; important growth in citizenship, following the integration of more than 10,000 minuti; on 1 September, the Ciompi are defeated but a popular guild-based government remains in power until 1382. 1382 In January, the wool merchants revolt, which puts an end to the guild government; consensus-based ideology is adopted, as the expression of the “whole of the Florentine people”; a return to the 1293 statutes; an oligarchical regime is established that is hostile to the popolo minuto, who lose all government access.

The oligarchical republic and Florence’s political and intellectual apogee (1382-1434)

41During this period, Florence asserted itself as central Italy’s foremost power alongside the Papal States, and experienced considerable economic and commercial expansion. The role of the guilds was tempered, while a social and political elite established its hegemony. However, in order to ensure consensus among the dominant classes, the list of preselected individuals whose names could be submitted to a random drawing was expanded (it fluctuated between 5000 and 6000 names, 70% of whom came from the major guilds), while a fairer tax system, based on land registry (cadastre) was implemented. Under competitive pressure from the Duchy of Milan, Florentine humanists ideologically defined their Tuscan city as the standard-bearer of republican freedom. Florentine artists discovered perspective and launched the artistic Renaissance.

tableau im5
1382 The republican constitutional framework is preserved, but is in reality used to establish an oligarchical regime, which sees the rise to power of figures like Maso degli Albizzi, Gino Capponi and Niccolò da Uzzano; in the years that follow, Maso in particular would try to modify the communal institutions in his favour. 1387 The accoppiatori (office of the scrutineers authorised to prepare the election purses for the random drawings) is created. 1390-1402 War against Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Signore then Duke of Milan. 1396 The podestà loses its ability to convoke council meetings, now the purview of the Signoria. 1402 The death of Gian Galeazzo Visconti frees Florence from its worst adversary. The city becomes the herald of “florentina libertas” in contrast to the surrounding principalities. Florentine intellectuals, especially the chancellors Coluccio Salutati and Leonardo Bruni, manage to combine humanism and republican traditions, founding what would later be called civic humanism. 1406 Conquest of Pisa; Florence finally has unfettered access to the sea. 1411 The Councils of the One Hundred and Thirty-One and the Two Hundred are created. 1416 Brunelleschi invents perspective; in 1420, he leads construction on the cupola of Florence’s Il Duomo; the city is the birthplace of the artistic Renaissance, with artists like Donatello, Masaccio, etc. 1427 Law regarding the general tax registry (castato) for the state of Florence, which implements an innovative tax system; on 3 December, the humanist Leonardo Bruni, originally from Arezzo, is appointed chancellor of the Republic. In the Constitution of Florence (1439), he posits that it is a mixed Constitution. 1433 In September, Cosimo de Medici, whose family grew rich from banking and is one of the city’s wealthiest, is exiled for ten years to Padua, following strategic manœuvres by his opponents. 1434 On 5 October, Cosimo di Medici returns to Florence; the crowd welcomes him enthusiastically.

3 – The first Medici rule (1434-1494)

42The Medicis effectively seized power, even though they did not formally abolish the existing republican institutions. The random drawings for offices were replaced by “handpicked” selections of individuals loyal to the new regime, from carefully crafted lists of names. New councils were created and likewise monitored. The Medici family acted as patrons of the arts and encouraged Florence’s artistic development.

tableau im6
1439 January-August: Council of Florence, in the presence of Pope Eugene IV and Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaiologos. 1440 Fra Angelico transfers from Fiesole to the Convent of San Marco, which he decorates with his frescos. 1454 On 9 April, the Treaty of Lodi ensures peace between the Republic of Venice and the Duchy of Milan, whose main ally is Florence, thus giving Italy a new political and institutional form of organisation, based on large-scale territorial equilibrium, which Lorenzo de Medici would work to preserve in later years. 1458 In August, failure of the coup d’état against the Medicis led by Luca Pitti; on 29 November, the Council of the One Hundred is created, exclusively with former gonfalonieri who had held office since the Medicis returned to power in 1434. 1464 Cosimo the Elder dies; his son, Piero de Medici (Piero the Gouty) becomes his successor, after being ratified by the assembly of the people (parlamento). September 1465-September 1466 Attempt to reinstate the republican regime, which ultimately fails. 1469 Lorenzo and Guiliano de Medici are the successors to their father Piero the Gouty. 1471 A group of 40 “handpicked” citizens become the permanent core of the Council of One Hundred, once again under Medici control. 1472 War against Volterra, which Florence succeeds in dominating. 1478 On 26 April, the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medicis in the Cathedral of Florence; Guiliano dies. 1480 On 19 April, creation of the Eight of Practice, responsible for foreign policy, and the Council of the Seventy, which selects the new priors. 1485 Botticelli paints The Birth of Venus; the arts and literature flourish under the patronage of the Medicis, with a marked neo-Platonic influence. 1490-91 The Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola makes apocalyptical predictions from the Convent of San Marco. 1492 On 8 April, Lorenzo de Medici dies. 1494 Final bankruptcy of the Medici bank; exploiting the French invasion that marks the beginning of the first of the Italian Wars, Pisa revolts and regains its independence, which it will preserve until it is conquered again in June 1509; on 8 November, the Florentines expel Piero de Medici, who had replaced Lorenzo, from the city; the Councils of the One Hundred and the Seventy are abolished; from 17 to 28 November, Charles VIII, King of France, stays in Florence.

4 – From the Second Republic to the final fall of the Republic (1494–1530)

43For almost four decades, the struggle between different republican factions and the Medici family grew increasingly virulent, engendering increasing political instability. Starting in 1494, when the Italian wars pitted the kingdoms of France and Spain against each other in the battle to dominate the peninsula (whereas the Middle Ages had been marked by the conflict between the emperor and the papacy), Florence was faced with a European dimension that demoted it to a secondary power, subjected to enemies whose power was much greater. Military and political operations and a spate of epidemics cruelly tested the city. Nonetheless, the works produced by Machiavelli and Guicciardini represented the apex of Florentine political thought, while in the arts, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci reached new heights. This period ended with the definitive defeat of the Republic.

tableau im7
1494 On 22-23 December, a constitutional reform creates the Grand Council; the republican regime is reinstated, paving the way for one of Florence’s most “popular” periods, sometimes called the Second Republic. Savonarola is the primary inspiration for these early years. 1496 In February, the first plenary meeting of the Grand Council takes place. 1497 New epidemic of the Black Plague. 1497-98 On 12 May 1497, Savonarola is excommunicated; he is executed on the Piazza della Signoria on 25 May 1498; Savonarola’s defeat allows Machiavelli to become secretary of the chancellery of Florence in June 1498. 1498-99 After several years of heated debates, random drawing becomes the favoured selection technique for the Grand Council to choose the holders of public offices. 1502 Gonfaloniere for life is created as an institution; on 10 September, Piero Soderini becomes the first to hold this office. 1504 Florence commissions a statue of David from Michelangelo, which is placed at the entrance to the Palazzo della Signoria; Michelangelo is later commissioned to review part of the city’s fortifications. 1512 A balìa governed by the Medicis is created, to control access to the magistracies and reform institutions; in September, cardinal Giovanni de Medici (Lorenzo’s son) forcibly occupies the Palazzo della Signoria to hold a “parliament” – a citizen assembly; he becomes the de facto Signore of Florence; Machiavelli is divested of his position and forced to exile himself in the Tuscan countryside (until 1514). 1513 The Grand Council and the Council of the Eighty are replaced by the Councils of the Hundred and the Seventy; on 11 March, cardinal Giovanni de Medici becomes Pope Leo X; on 9 May, Giulio de Medici becomes the archbishop of Florence; Lorenzo de Medici, the son of Piero the Unfortunate and nephew to the Pope, holds the real power in Florence, leading the Councils of the Seventy and the One Hundred, which are controlled by the Medicis; from July to December, Machiavelli likely composes The Prince. 1515 On 23 May, Lorenzo de Medici becomes captain of the Republic of Florence; Francis I of France triumphs at Marignano. 1516 Lorenzo is made the Duke of Urbino. 1516-17 Machiavelli is the main figure in the political/intellectual circle, the Orti Oricellari; c.1519, he finishes his Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy. 1519 On 4 May, Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, dies; cardinal Giulio de Medici takes over governing the city. 1520 The University of Florence commissions the Florentine Histories from Machiavelli. 1521 Guicciardini is appointed general commissioner of the pope’s army against the French; he writes the first volume of his Dialogue on the Government of Florence (the second is published in 1526) as a counterpoint to Machiavelli’s Reforming the State of Florence (1520). 1523 On 19 November, cardinal Giulio de Medici becomes Pope Clement VII. 1524 In May, cardinal Silvio Passerini (of Cortona) takes over the city’s government, on behalf of the young Alessandro and Ippolito de Medici. 1527 On 17 May, in the aftermath of the Sack of Rome by the imperial troops, the Medicis flee Florence, the city then reinstating the Republic; the Grand Council and the Council of the Eighty are re-established; a new Gonfaloniere of Justice is established for a year-long term; on 31 May, the moderate Niccolò Capponi is elected; the Republic becomes radicalised in the fight against enemies both within and without; Machiavelli’s offers of service are ignored, and the latter dies the same year on 21 June; Guicciardini is accused by republicans of being pro-Medici; he leaves Florence for several years in 1529. 1528 On 9 February, the Republic is placed under the sovereignty of Christ, the “King of Florence”. 1529 On 15 April, Capponi is deposed and replaced on the 18th by Francesco Carducci, an anti-Medici radical; on 14 October, the imperial and papal troops lay siege to Florence. 1530 On 12 August, Florence surrenders; on 20 August, supporters of the Medicis, who are back in Florence, convoke a citizen assembly (parlamento) and appoint a balìa that eliminates the republican institutions and instates a Signoria.

Foundation and stabilisation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (1530-1861)

44With the creation of the Grand Duchy, Florence became the head of a stable territorial state that encompassed all of Tuscany. Thanks to its demographic recovery (the city had 60,000 inhabitants in 1552), and a long period of political stability, the Grand Duchy became one of Europe’s most prosperous states. Nevertheless, Florence was now a middle power, and no longer represented the political, intellectual and artistic avant-garde of the western world.

tableau im8
1531 Alessandro de Medici, the illegitimate son of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, returns on 5 July 1531; on 18 October, Machiavelli’s Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy is published in Rome. 1532 The Council of the Two Hundred and a 48-person Senate are created; Alessandro becomes the “Duke of the Florentine Republic”; Machiavelli’s The Prince is published on 4 January. 1536 On 18 January, Alessandro weds Margaret of Parma, the legitimised daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. 1537 On 6 January, Alessandro is assassinated by one of his cousins, Lorenzino de Medici; on 9 January, the Senate recognises the young Cosimo de Medici (son of the condottiero Giovanni dalle Bande Nere) as the “first citizen of the city of Florence”; on 1 August, Florentine republicans are crushed by the official Florentine troops at Montemurlo, some twenty kilometres northwest of Florence. 1537-1540 Guicciardini pens The History of Italy, the first “national” history from a modern continental perspective; he dies on 22 May 1540. 1550 In May, Cosimo acquires the Pitti Palace, in a southern neighbour of the city; he will settle there in the 1560s. 1553-55 War against Siena, which ultimately surrenders to Cosimo. 1557 On 3 July, Phillip II, King of Spain, gives the city and state of Siena as a fief to Cosimo I. 1559 In January, the conspiracy led by Pandolfo Pucci against Cosimo I fails. 1564 On 14 June, Cosimo I abdicates for his son Francesco, acting as regent. 1569 On 24 August, Pope Pious V grants Cosimo de Medici the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany; the title is only recognised by an imperial charter in January 1576. 1574 On 21 April, death of Cosimo I; Francesco becomes the second Grand Duke of Tuscany. 1737 End of the Medici dynasty. 1861 The Grand Duchy of Tuscany is annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia.


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    On this question, see the seminal work of Felix Gilbert, Machiavelli and Guicciardini: Politics and History in Sixteenth Century Florence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965).
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    Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance. Civic Humanism and republican Liberty in an Age of Classicism and Tyranny (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966 [1st edn 1955]); John Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975); Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978).
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    John Padgett, Christopher K. Ansell, “Robust action and the rise of the Medici”, American Journal of Sociology, 96, 1993, 1259-319; John Padgett, Paul D. McLean, “Organizational invention and elite transformation: the birth of partnership systems in Renaissance Florence”, American Journal of Sociology, 111, 2006, 1463-568; John Padgett, “Open elite, social mobility, marriage and family in Florence, 1282-1494”, Renaissance Quarterly, 63, 2010, 357-411; Paul D. McLean, The Art of the Network. Strategic Interaction and Patronage in Renaissance Florence (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).Online
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    On the use of the first tax registry used at the state level, see David Herlihy, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Les Toscans et leurs familles. Une étude du catasto florentin de 1427 (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po/Éditions de l’EHESS, 1978).
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    Among the rare exceptions, Gene A. Brucker, Florence. Six siècles de splendeur et de gloire, translated into French by Bernard Blanc, Dominique Brotot (Paris: La Martinière, 1999); F. Gilbert, Machiavel et Guichardin. Politique et histoire à Florence au xvie siècle, translated into French by Jean Viviès in collaboration with Perle Abbrugiati (Paris: Seuil, 1996).
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    Bernard Manin, Principes du gouvernement représentatif (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1995).
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    Studies on Machiavelli are too numerous to be cited; for a recent overview, see Sandro Landi, Machiavel (Paris: Ellipses, 2nd edn, 2014). On Guicciardini, see in particular the remarkable translation done by Jean-Louis Fournel and Jean-Claude Zancarini, as well as their works La politique de l’expérience. Savonarole, Guicciardini et le républicanisme florentin (Alessandria: Edizioni dell’Orso, 2002), and La grammaire de la République. Langages de la politique chez Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540) (Geneva: Droz, 2009). On Bruni, see Leonardo Bruni Aretino, Histoire, éloquence et poésie à Florence au début du Quattrocento, texts selected, edited and translated by Laurence Bernard-Pradelle (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2008); Raisons politiques, issue on “Actualité de l’humanisme civique”, edited by Yves Sintomer, 36, November 2009. On Savonarola, Anna Fontes, Jean-Louis Fournel, Michel Plaisance (eds), Savonarole. Enjeux, débats, questions. Actes du colloque international (Paris, 25-27 janvier 1996) (Paris: Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1997).
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    Jean Boutier, Sandro Landi, Olivier Rouchon (eds), Florence et la Toscane. Les dynamiques d’un État italien, xive-xixe siècles (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2004); Charles-Marie de La Roncière, Prix et salaires à Florence au xive siècle, 1280-1380 (Rome: École française de Rome, 1982); Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Retour à la cité. Les magnats de Florence, 1340-1440 (Paris: Éditions de l’EHESS, 2006); Isabelle Chabot, La dette des familles. Femmes, lignage et patrimoine à Florence aux xive et xve siècles (Rome: École française de Rome, 2011); Alessandro Stella, La révolte des Ciompi: les hommes, les lieux, le travail (Paris: Éditions de l’EHESS, 1993).
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    Several French studies on Italian cities provide an overview: see especially Patrick Boucheron, Conjurer la peur: Sienne, 1338. Essai sur la force politique des images (Paris: Seuil, 2013); Patrick Boucheron, Jean-Philippe Genet (eds), Le pouvoir symbolique en Occident (1300-1640), vol. 7, Marquer la ville. Signes, traces, empreintes du pouvoir (xiiie-xvie siècle) (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2014); Élisabeth Crouzet-Pavan, Venise, une invention de la ville. xiiie-xve siècle (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 1997), and Venise triomphante. Les horizons d’un mythe (Paris: Albin Michel, 1999); Jean-Pierre Delumeau, Arezzo: espace et sociétés, 715-1230. Recherches sur Arezzo et son contado du viiie au début du xiiie siècle (Rome: École française de Rome, 1996); Jacques Heers, Gênes au xve siècle. Activité économique et problèmes sociaux (Paris: SEVPEN, 1961); Étienne Hubert, Espace urbain et habitat à Rome. Du xe siècle à la fin du xiiie siècle (Rome: École française de Rome, 1990); Philippe Jansen, Macerata aux xive et xve siècles. Démographie et société dans les Marches à la fin du Moyen Âge (Rome: École française de Rome, 2001); Céline Pérol, Cortona. Pouvoirs et sociétés aux confins de la Toscane, xve-xvie siècle (Rome: École française de Rome, 2004); Claire Judde de Larivière, La révolte des boules de neige. Murano contre Venise, 1511 (Paris: Fayard, 2014), and Naviguer, commercer, gouverner. Économie maritime et pouvoirs à Venise (xve-xvie siècles) (Leiden: Brill, 2008); Odile Redon, L’espace d’une cité. Sienne et le pays siennois, xiiie-xive siècles (Rome: École française de Rome, 1994).
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    Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur, Enrico Faini, Il sistema politico dei comuni italiani (secoli XII-XIV) (Milan: B. Mondadori, 2010); Andrea Zorzi, Le signorie cittadine in Italia, secoli 13-15 (Milan: B. Mondadori, 2010); Lorenzo Tanzini, A consiglio. La vita politica nell’Italia dei comuni (Bari: Laterza, 2014); Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur (ed.), Signorie cittadine nell’Italia comunale (Rome: Viella, 2013). A certain number of excellent overviews also exist in French: Patrick Gilli, Villes et sociétés urbaines en Italie. Milieu xiie-milieu xive siècle (Paris: Sedes, 2005); François Menant, L’Italie des communes. 1100-1350 (Paris: Belin, 2005); Ilaria Taddei, Franco Franceschi, Les villes d’Italie du milieu du xiie au milieu du xive. Économies, sociétés, pouvoirs, cultures (Paris: Bréal, 2005).
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    See on this issue the insightful analysis provided by Jean-Louis Fournel and Jean-Claude Zancarini in Francesco Guicciardini, Histoire d’Italie (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2 vol., 1996).
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    Lorenzo Tanzini, “Les coordonnées historiographiques de l’histoire politique florentine”, in the French version of this issue of the Revue française de science politique.
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    Andrea Zorzi, “I rettori di Firenze. Reclutamento, flussi, scambi (1193-1313)”, in Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur (ed.), I podestà nell’Italia comunale, volume 1, Reclutamento e circolazione degli ufficiali forestieri (fine 12 sec.-metà 14 sec.) (Rome: Istituto storico italiano per Il Medioevo, 2000), 453-594 (453).
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    A. Stella, La Révolte des Ciompi.
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    Nicolai Rubinstein, “Florentina libertas”, Rinascimento, 2(26), 1986, 3-26.
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    For a discussion of this three-pronged approach, see Jean Boutier, “Les formes et l’exercice du pouvoir: remarques sur l’historiographie récente de la Toscane à l’époque des Médicis (xvie-xviie siècles)”, in Mario Ascheri, Alessandra Contini (eds), La Toscana in età moderna (Secoli XVI-XVIII). Politica, istituzioni, società: studi recenti e prospettive di ricerca. Atti del convegno, Arezzo, 12-13 ottobre 2000 (Florence: Olschki, 2005), 1-58.
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    Luc Boltanski, Laurent Thévenot, De la justification. Les économies de la grandeur (Paris: Gallimard, 1991).
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    See the excellent overview provided by John M. Najemy, A History of Florence, 1200-1575 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006). For an introduction in French, see J. Boutier et al. (eds), Florence et la Toscane.
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    Enrico Faini, Firenze nell’età romanica (1000-1211). L’espansione urbana, lo sviluppo istituzionale, il rapporto con il territorio (Florence: Olschki, 2010, 361).
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    Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur, Cavaliers et citoyens. Guerres, conflits et société dans l’Italie communale, xiie-xiiie siècle (Paris: éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2003).
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    E. Faini, Firenze nell’età romanica, 223-360.
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    For a recent overview, see Richard A. Goldthwaite, The Economy of Renaissance Florence (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).
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    For a recent survey of works on this subject, see Silvia Diacciati, Andrea Zorzi (eds), La legislazione antimagnatizia a Firenze (Rome: Istituto storico italiano per il Medio Evo, 2013).
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    Charles-Marie de La Roncière, “De la ville à l’État régional: la constitution du territoire (xive-xve siècle)”, in J. Boutier et al. (eds), Florence et la Toscane, 15-38.
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    Piero Gualtieri, Il Comune di Firenze tra Due e Trecento (Florence: Olschki, 2009).
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    Nicolas Machiavel, Histoires florentines, in Íuvres (Paris: Gallimard, 1952). [Niccolò Machiavelli, Florentine Histories (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988)]
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    Fabrizio Ricciardelli, The Politics of Exclusion in Early Renaissance Florence (Louvain: Brepols, 2007).
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    Gene Brucker, The Civic World of Early Renaissance Florence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977); and Florentine Politics and Society (1343-1378) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962).
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    See also Riccardo Fubini, Italia quattrocentesca. Politica e diplomazia nell’età di Lorenzo il Magnifico (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1994); Nicolai Rubinstein, The Government of Florence under the Medici (1434-94) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968).
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    Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur, “Il problema storiografico: Firenze come modello (e mito) di regime popolare”, in Magnati e popolani nell’Italia comunale. Pistoia, 15-18 Maggio 1995 (Pistoia: Centro italiano di studi di storia e d’arte, 1997), 1-16.
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    For a comprehensive approach, see Enrico Artifoni, “Corporazioni e società di ‘popolo’: un problema della politica comunale nel secolo XIII”, Quaderni storici, 25, 1990, 387-404.
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    Silvia Diacciati, “Popolo e regime politico a Firenze nella prima metà del Duecento”, Annali di Firenze, 1, 2006, 37-82. See also Max Weber’s classic tome, recently translated into French by Aurélien Berlan: La ville (Paris: La Découverte, 2014).
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    P. Gualtieri, Il Comune di Firenze; Silvia Diacciati, Popolani e magnati. Società e politica nella Firenze del Duecento (Spoleto: Fondazione Centro italiano di studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2011).
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    John M. Najemy, Corporatism and Consensus in Florentine Electoral Politics, 1280-1400 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 9. This work presents an in-depth study of Florentine electoral politics, in particular of access to the supreme office of the Priorati delle Arti during the fourteenth century.
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    From a narrower, but equally illuminating perspective, see Isabelle Chabot, “Le gouvernement des pères: l’État florentin et la famille (xive-xve siècle)”, in J. Boutier et al. (eds), Florence et la Toscane, 241-63.
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    See Simonetta Adorni Braccesi, Mario Ascheri (eds), Politica e cultura nelle repubbliche italiane del Medioevo all’età moderna, Firenze-Genova-Lucca-Siena-Venezia (Rome: Istituto storico italiano per l’età moderna e contemporanea, 2001).
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    A recent informative clarification is provided in French by Ilaria Taddei, “Le système politique florentin au xve siècle”, in J. Boutier et al. (eds), Florence et la Toscane, 39-63.
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    J. M. Najemy, Consensus, 320-2.
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    The political transformation of Florence’s ruling class is clearly described by John M. Najemy, “The dialogue of power in Florentine politics”, in Anthony Molho, Julia Emlen, Kurt Raaflaub (eds), City-states in Classical Antiquity and Medieval Italy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 269-88.
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    See the article by Nicolai Rubinstein in this issue; regarding the political class during 1494-1512, see Roslyn Pesman Cooper, “The Florentine ruling group under the ‘governo popolare’, 1494-1512”, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, 7, 1984, 69-181.
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    H. Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance.
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    For an overview, see James Hankins (ed.), Renaissance Civic Humanism. Reappraisals and Reflections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
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    See on this topic, J. M. Najemy, Corporatism and Consensus.
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    For a concise presentation with regard to Florence, see Yves Sintomer, “De Leonardo Bruni à Francesco Guicciardini: actualité de l’humanisme civique?”, Raisons politiques, 36, November 2009, 5-24. A survey of the different republican arguments is presented by Serge Audier, Les théories de la République (Paris: La Découverte, 2004).
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    Philip Pettit, Républicanisme. Une théorie de la liberté et du gouvernement (Paris: Gallimard, 2004).
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    See for the modern period the recent work by Olivier Christin, Vox populi. Une histoire du vote avant le suffrage universel (Paris: Seuil, 2014), and the review of this work by Olivier Ihl in “Démocratie et élection”, Revue française de science politique, 64(4), 2014, 784-90.
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    See among others Yves Déloye, Olivier Ihl, L’acte de vote (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2008); Yves Déloye, Sociologie historique du politique (Paris: La Découverte, 2007); Alain Garrigou, Histoire sociale du suffrage universel en France, 1848-2000 (Paris: Seuil, 2002); Michel Offerlé, Un homme, une voix? Histoire du suffrage universel (Paris: Gallimard, 2002); Pierre Rosanvallon, Le sacre du citoyen. Histoire du suffrage universel en France (Paris: Gallimard, 1992).
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    Aristotle, Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013). See also Plato, The Republic, VIII.
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    Yves Sintomer, “Tirage au sort et politique: de l’autogouvernement républicain à la démocratie délibérative”, Raisons politiques, 42, May 2011, 159-85, and Petite histoire de l’expérimentation démocratique. Tirage au sort et politique d’Athènes à nos jours (Paris: La Découverte, 2011).
  • [53]
    For attempts at giving an essentialist view of lottery systems from a variety of perspectives, cf., Jacques Rancière, La haine de la démocratie (Paris: La Fabrique, 2005), 54; B. Manin, Principes du gouvernement représentatif; Hubertus Buchstein, Demokratie und Lotterie. Das Los als politisches Entscheidungsinstrument von der Antike bis zu EU (Frankfurt: Campus, 2009); Oliver Dowlen, The Political Potential of Sortition. A Study of the Random Selection of Citizens for Public Office (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2008).
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    Christoph Dartmann, Günther Wassilowsky, Thomas Weller (eds), Technik und Symbolik vormoderner Wahlverfahren (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2010); Guidubaldo Guidi, Il Governo della città-repubblica di Firenze del primo Quattrocento (Florence: Olschki, 1981), vol. 2, 136-7; E. Ruffini, “I sistemi di deliberazione collettiva…”; R. Schneider, H. Zimmermann (eds), Wahlen und Wählen im Mittelalter.
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    J. M. Najemy, Corporatism and Consensus.
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    N. Rubinstein, “Florentina libertas.”
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    Francesco Guicciardini, “Du mode d’élection aux offices dans le Grand Conseil”, Raisons politiques, 36, November 2009, 85-107; Francesco Guicciardini, “Discours de Logroño”, in Jean-Louis Fournel, Jean-Claude Zancarini (eds), Écrits politiques. Discours de Logroño. Dialogue sur la façon de régir Florence, translated by Jean-Louis Fournel, Jean-Claude Zancarini (Paris: PUF, 1997); Giorgio Cadoni, Lotte politiche e riforme istituzionali a Firenze tra il 1494 e il 1502 (Rome: Istituto storico italiano per il medio evo, 1999).
  • [58]
    Roberto Celli, Pour l’histoire des origines du pouvoir populaire. L’expérience des villes-États italiens (xie-xiie siècles) (Louvain-la-Neuve: Publications de l’Institut d’études médiévales, 2nd series, 3, 1980).
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    Hagen Keller, “‘Kommune’: Städtische Selbstregierung und mittelalterliche ‘Volksherrschaft’ im Spiegel italienischer Wahlverfahren des 12.-14. Jahrhunderts”, in Gerd Althoff et al. (eds), Person und Gemeinschaft im Mittelalter. Karl Schmid zum 65. Geburtstag (Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke, 1988), 573-616.
  • [60]
    Hasso Hofmann, Repräsentation. Studien zur Wort- und Begriffsgeschichte von der Antike bis ins 19. Jahrhundert (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1974); see also Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, Vormünder des Volkes? Konzepte landständischer Repräsentation in der Spätphase des Alten Reiches (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1999).
  • [61]
    This dualism informs, but cannot be reduced to, the more specific version presented by much of German political theory of Schmittian inspiration when it contrasts Vertretung and Repräsentation. See especially Carl Schmitt, Théorie de la constitution (Paris: PUF, 1993). For a critical presentation in French, see Olivier Beaud, “Repräsentation et Stellvertretung: sur une discussion de Carl Schmitt”, Droit, 6, 1987, 11-19; Hasso Hofmann, “La représentation, un problème allemand?”, Raisons politiques, 50, May 2013, 79-96.
  • [62]
    Hanna F. Pitkin, The Concept of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972 [1st edn 1967]); Jane Mansbridge “Rethinking political representation”, The American Political Science Review, 97(4), 2003, 515-28. For a new French perspective on the conception of representation, see the special issue “La représentation politique/Die politische Repräsentation” edited by Paul Diehl, Yves Sintomer, Samuel Hayat, Trivium, spring 2014; and the special issue “Repenser la représentation politique” edited by Samuel Hayat, Yves Sintomer, Raisons politiques, 50, June 2013.
  • [63]
    Thomas Hobbes, Léviathan (Paris: Gallimard, 2000); Carl Schmitt, Théorie de la constitution; Pierre Bourdieu, Langage et pouvoir symbolique (Paris: Fayard, 2001); Michael Saward, The Representative Claim (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • [64]
    A more complete timeline is available in Italian on the website Storia di Firenze: <>. Our timeline seeks to provide an overview of Florence’s political history, while also marking several important reference points for its cultural and economic history.

European communes of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance reinvented the political, understood here as a public debate on the polity, with electoral and deliberative procedures that enabled citizens to participate in institutional politics. The Commune of Florence occupied a central position within this evolution, but this important period of western history tends to be neglected by French-speaking researchers, and especially by political scientists. This special issue of the Revue française de science politique on the political history of Florence focuses on electoral and decision-making procedures. In this introduction we highlight some of the most important issues which this period raises for political research; issues whose influence extends far beyond specialist research on Florentine history.

Jean Boutier
As a research director at the EHESS, Jean Boutier has worked on the comparative history of European societies, including Italy, France and the United Kingdom. He has written many works on the history of Florence, including his doctoral dissertation, “Construction et anatomie d’une noblesse urbaine: Florence à l’époque moderne, xvie-viiie siècle”, Paris, EHESS, 1988. His publications include: (with Sandro Landi, Olivier Rouchon) Florence et la Toscane, xive-xixe siècle. Les dynamiques d’un État italien (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2004) (Italian edition: Florence: Mandragora, 2009); (with Brigitte Marin, Antonella Romano) Rome, Naples, Florence. Une histoire comparée des milieux intellectuels italiens (xviie-xviiie siècles) (Rome: École française de Rome, 2005); (with Sandro Landi, Olivier Rouchon) La politique par correspondance. Les usages politiques de la lettre en Italie, xive-xviiie siècle (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2009)
(EHESS, Centre Norbert-Elias, 2 rue de la Charité, 13002 Marseille).
Yves Sintomer
A senior member of the Institut universitaire de France (IUF), Yves Sintomer is a professor of political science at the Université Paris VIII, and a researcher at the UMR Cresppa, in the CSU team (CNRS). He is also an adjunct and visiting professor at a number of European universities, including Lausanne, Neuchâtel, the University of the Basque Country (UPV) and Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. He was the assistant director of the Marc-Bloch Centre (Berlin) from 2006 to 2009. He has published numerous articles and books on German sociology and political philosophy, as well as on the issue of democracy, most notably Petite histoire de l’expérimentation démocratique. Tirage au sort et politique d’Athènes à nos jours (Paris: La Découverte, 2011). He edited an issue of the journal Raisons politiques on Florentine civic humanism (36, November 2009), and another on political representation (with Samuel Hayat, Raisons politiques, 50, June 2013)
(CSU-Cresppa, 59-61 rue Pouchet, 75849 Paris cedex 17).
Translated from French by
Sarah-Louise Raillard
Uploaded on on 19/11/2015
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